I've been speaking a lot lately to different groups and I see 3 current trends among fire departments.
1. Budgets will be squeezed for a long time. No one expects some miracle return to pre-crisis funding. Most fire officials expect current budget issues for 7 to 10 years or more. At the same time, the cost of switching from volunteers to career fire fighters or simply recruiting, equipping, training, and insuring volunteer fire fighters will add to the budget pressure.
2. Fire departments are beginning to think about operating differently. This is evidenced by the increasing numbers of consolidating departments or the combining of purchasing. The fact of an extended budget squeeze has forced department officials to think more creatively about providing service at same or even lower costs.
3. Fire departments are learning how to communicate value. I hear more conversations about outreach to the community to express why and how a fire department benefits a community. This is new ground and some departments are very successful in doing this while others are in the beginning stages. However, fire departments are learning they must justify (both operationally and financially) the claim on a communities shrinking budget.
The fire service is under unprecedented pressures. The fire service is being transformed due to suppressed funding and increasing costs. But the people I talk with show a resilience that will ensure this fine tradition will survive and thrive.
John R. Hill